We at The Thirsty Kitten are constantly on a quest to find new wineries to add to our list of favorites. So, you might wonder, what does it take to make it to onto our list? First, the obvious— great wine. We’re always on the hunt for wine with finesse and balance, wine that makes you stop in your tracks to savor each sip in awe and gratitude. Second, but just as important, is feeling welcome in the tasting room. Yes, we appreciate having friendly folks pouring wine for us. Third, we like to learn: about the wines, about the people who make them, and about the history of the winery. Stories about the traditions and personalities behind the wines make us enjoy the wine itself all the more.
Many wineries have some of the above, but we don’t often find all these qualities in a single spot. Yet, when we stopped at Mauritson Winery on our recent trip to Northern California, we hit the jackpot.
Mauritson is located just outside the town of Healdsburg, in northern Sonoma County, on the Dry Creek Road. [Dry Creek Road should not be confused with the nearby West Dry Creek Road about which we recently wrote.] As luck would have it, we happened to notice a copy of Wine Spectator magazine in our hotel room. If you recall from our last post, we were staying at the luxurious Hotel Healdsburg and were already on Cloud Nine because of our scrumptious dinner the previous evening at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen. Could things really get any better than this? Apparently they could. The feature article in the Spectator was on Dry Creek Valley wineries that specialize in Zinfandel, with Mauritson listed among them. “Hey,” we exclaimed in unison, “We love Zinfandel!” [well, perhaps, we didn’t exclaim in unison, but it’s fair to say we were quite excited.]
We were out the door and headed to Mauritson in the blink of an eye, arriving promptly at the 10:00 a.m. opening time. Warmly welcomed by Mary at the tasting bar, we settled in for what would turn out to be one of the highlights of our trip. We learned that the Mauritson family has been growing grapes in the Dry Creek Valley since 1868. Winery founder S.P. Hallengren first planted vines in 1884 in the nearby the Rockpile region, making wine to ship back to family and friends in his native Sweden. By the 1960s, the family’s holdings in the Rockpile region had grown to over 4,000 acres. But the Army Corps of Engineers acquired all except 700 ridgetop acres in order to create Lake Sonoma for flood control, irrigation and recreation. Alas, the valley floor that was once farmed by Hallengren is now under water. Luckily, the remaining ridgetop acres have gone on to produce some phenomenal wines.
Sixth generation family member Clay Mauritson, unable to resist the call of the wine tradition in his family tree, created the inaugural vintage of the Mauritson label in 1998. In addition having wine in his blood, Clay trained at Kenwood, Taft Street, and Dry Creek Vineyards after college to learn the business.Today, Clay and his wife Carrie run the family operation together and have received many accolades for the wines they are producing.
So, what about the wines? We started with the 2010 Dry Creek Valley Zin and after our first whiff, we were hooked. Full-bodied and well balanced, the wine was brimming with jammy blackberry flavors. We were not surprised to see that their 2007 Dry Creek Zin received 92 points from Wine Spectator. Other wines in their line-up include a Sauv Blanc, Chard, Rosé and Cab and everything we sipped was wonderful. We then tasted from their Rockpile label, which focuses on deep, rich reds grown on the original Rockpile property. Rockpile has now become its own appellation, one of the newest in California, and is comprised the ridgetops above Lake Sonoma. With a variety of Zins, a Syrah, a Petite Syrah, a Cab and a Malbec, we were impressed with the excellent quality across the board.
The final wine we tasted revealed a serendipitous connection that was the icing on the cake for the whole visit. Apparently Clay Mauritson is friends with none other than chef Charlie Palmer. Still savoring every detail of our meal at Palmer’s restaurant the previous evening, we loved learning that Mauritson and Palmer have collaborated to create a Pinot Noir together. Named Charlie Clay, the venture resulted from a trip the two took together to Burgundy, France. The wine they created echoes the food-friendly, balanced, elegance of the French Burgundies. Yes, the 2010 Charlie Clay Russian River Valley Pinot Noir was wonderful.
So in honor of adding another winery to our list of favorites, we toast this week to quests, and more specifically, to the hunt for excellence served with a friendly, down-to-earth welcome. Though the journey is always fun no matter whether you find everything you’re looking for in one place or not, there’s still nothing like hitting the jackpot once in awhile. Cheers!